Solskjaer’s trophy hunt continues in the FA Cup
As Manchester United’s already-slim title chances became that little bit slimmer at the weekend, focus shifts to the FA Cup. West Ham United and former United boss David Moyes visit Old Trafford on Tuesday looking to further diminish Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s hopes of a first trophy since taking over at the helm.
That devastating last-minute Premier League draw at home to Everton was a sucker punch. United had played well for the majority of the game, yet they conspired to throw it away in time added on to injury time. The situation was compounded the next day with Manchester City dismantling Liverpool to move five points clear with a game in hand.
It will now be interesting to see how Solskjaer’s side reacts to such a setback. The United manager effectively dismissed his team as being title challengers on Saturday night but you would like to believe that internally they haven’t genuinely written off their chances.
Whilst it does look increasingly unlikely that anyone will rise above City, fans will want to see evidence of the purported shift in mentality in this group of players. That includes recovering from disappointment and meeting expectations. Going deep in the FA Cup is one of those expectations.
As is the norm for United in cup competitions, particularly since Solskjaer took charge, they won’t have it easy. The Reds have faced Premier League opponents in 12 of the 19 cup games since December 2018; an in-form West Ham team will fancy their chances of causing an upset at Old Trafford, especially this season.
Results at home have without doubt been the aspect of Manchester United’s campaign to let them down the most. Even the most ordinary home record would likely have seen Solskjaer’s men top of the league and potentially still in the Champions League.
If they are to secure a safe passage into a seventh FA Cup quarter-final in a row, they will have to do it without a couple of important players. Paul Pogba came off in the first half against Everton with a thigh injury that will keep him out ‘for a few weeks’, whilst Eric Bailly is still struggling with a knock.
The Ivorian would arguably have been well suited to facing Everton last time out as Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire struggled with runs in behind. His unavailability here might give Axel Tuanzebe an opportunity to partner Maguire at the back and provide a similar solution.
Pogba’s absence will give Donny van de Beek more encouragement than he’s had of late. Solskjaer is unlikely to take Bruno Fernandes’ creativity out of the team with the Frenchman missing but Van de Beek could fill one of the central midfield slots alongside any one of Scott McTominay, Nemanja Matic or Fred.
In goal, it’s pretty much certain that Dean Henderson will continue his run in the cup team. The young goalkeeper has another opportunity to heap more pressure on David de Gea after the Spanish stopper was at fault on more than one occasion at the weekend.
As for the Hammers, Moyes won’t be able to call upon Jesse Lingard against his parent club, but he does have Tomas Soucek at his disposal after his ludicrous red card against Fulham was overturned. The Czech midfielder, and West Ham in general have been dangerous, particularly in set piece situations this season. If United are to avoid coming unstuck on Tuesday night, they will need to avoid the mistakes made against Everton.
David Moyes cannot be allowed to halt Manchester United’s progression again.
(Sorry Dave, that was a cheap dig).
Score Prediction: Manchester United 1-0 West Ham United
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Manchester United vs West Ham United (Last 5 Meetings)
December 2020: West Ham United 2-3 Manchester United
July 2020: Manchester United 1-1 West Ham United
September 2019: West Ham United 2-0 Manchester United
April 2019: Manchester United 2-1 West Ham United
September 2019: West Ham United 3-1 Manchester United